Medi-Cal recipients must provide their current contact information to retain coverage. (Courtesy photo)

Californians enrolled in Medi-Cal should keep an eye out for a yellow envelope in their mailbox over the next 14 months. The Medi-Cal eligibility of over 15.4 million Golden State residents is under review for the first time since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020.

If a Medi-Cal beneficiary does receive the yellow envelope, they must provide their current contact information to health care officials as soon as possible to retain their Medi-Cal coverage, noted California Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) Assistant Deputy Director Yingjia Huang.

“It is critical that they do it by the due date that is on the packet that will come,” she said. “If that is not completed by the due date, there is a possibility that you will lose your coverage from Medi-Cal.”

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Huang was one of several speakers featured during an April 12 online media briefing held to notify Medi-Cal members of the health coverage eligibility check, which began on April 1. The media teleconference was organized by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services in partnership with DHCS.

Medi-Cal is California’s version of Medicaid, the federal government funded health insurance program. Administered in conjunction with states, Medicaid is designed for people with limited incomes. The insurance covers services such as dental care, prescriptions, and medical and preventive care.

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act, enacted in 2020, directed Medicaid programs nationally to keep everyone enrolled during the pandemic. The annual redetermination process was suspended due to the severity of the worldwide health emergency. However, federal agencies declared the emergency over last month. So now, 80 million Americans are in the process of having their Medicaid eligibility checked by their states’ health department.

According to DHCS figures, 1,066,215 African Americans in California have Medi-Cal. Over 2.6 million Whites are enrolled in the program, as are 7.4 million Latinos. Over 2.8 million people who did not provide a race or ethnicity are insured by Medi-Cal and the number of

Asian/Pacific Islanders enrolled is over 1.4 million. By ethnicity, people of American Indian/Alaskan Native descent account for the lowest number of enrollees at 55,851.

Children’s Partnership Executive Director Mayra Alvarez said during the online call that it is important for Medi-Cal eligible families to keep coverage.

“As we come out of this public health emergency, health insurance coverage and access to care is essential for everyone to be healthy and thrive,” she explained. “Particularly during this pandemic, which has also exacerbated mental health issues for children and youth across the state.”

Alvarez said most of Medi-Cal enrollees are people of color, and nearly 70% of the 5.7 million children that use the service are minorities.

“It is a lifeline for so many in our communities, and it’s a program that continues to be available for the millions enrolled,” she stated. “Even before the pandemic, long standing, structurally racist policies and practices have created an environment wherein families of color experience significantly greater degrees of instability. Instability in employment; instability in income; instability in housing. These economic and housing conditions actually heighten the risk of disruptions in health coverage and in doing so, eliminates the security that comes with having health insurance coverage.”

The packets inside the yellow envelopes Medi-Cal members will receive ask for personal information, including their current phone number, email address, and street address. Recipients must reply by the deadline, which is typically between 45 to 60 days after getting the packet in the mail. For example, packets mailed this month have a June 30 due date and packets sent in May must be returned by July 31. The Medi-Cal account holders can provide that info by mail, online, or by calling their county’s Medi-Cal office.

“The easiest way to actually do this is online,” Huang remarked.

Medi-Cal members all have different medical renewal months. Around 30% will be automatically renewed. Those people will get a letter in the mail acknowledging that.

Also, addressed during the briefing were the steps involved in redetermining a person’s eligibility and how to get information in 19 different languages.

Between two million to three million Californians will lose the health service, while others will become eligible for the first time.

Workers hired to jobs that provide health benefits and people who earn enough income to be shifted from the health coverage to Covered California, the state’s health insurance exchange, are among those predicted to lose Medi-Cal.

Huang said the switch from Medi-Cal to Covered California can be automatic.

“It all goes back to the member must have the most updated information with the county Medi-Cal office for that process to happen,” she said.  The Medi-Cal packets are sent to the last known address of beneficiaries. Recipients whose name, phone number, email address or mailing address have changed in the last three years need to update that information at Covered California, BenefitsCal, or My Benefits CalWIN.

Medi-Cal coverage, Alvarez said, can continue for everyone who is eligible.

“Now is the time to make sure we are taking the necessary steps to keep our coverage,” she noted. “This is especially important for people of color, who are more likely to rely on Medi-Cal for coverage and who are more likely to be at risk of losing that coverage.”